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49ers’ love of game versus reality of research – SFGate

Photo: Ben Margot, Associated Press

San Francisco 49ers’ fullback Kyle Juszczyk smiles during a media conference Friday, March 10, 2017, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

San Francisco 49ers’ fullback Kyle Juszczyk smiles during a media conference Friday, March 10, 2017, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

49ers love of game versus reality of research

Kyle Juszczyk might be the only economics major from his graduating class at Harvard who is working a blue-collar job that comes with significant health risks.

His 9-to-5 gig: NFL fullback.

Juszczyk, 26, who signed a four-year, $21 million contract with the 49ers in March, could be doing something else with his Ivy League education. And he was recently asked if hed ever considered how long he wanted to stay in a profession that requires him to routinely run full-speed into 250-pound linebackers.

Yeah, absolutely, Juszczyk said. Definitely. I think any player that tells you they havent put some sort of thought into it, theyre not being truthful with you.

Ive put thought into it, but I love this game so much and I wouldnt take a snap away from my career to leave early. Thats just my feelings on it. This is a game I love so much that Im willing to put it on the line.

Juszczyk spoke last week, four days after a major study generated a new wave of questions about the long-term effects of playing football.

The study published by the American Medical Association examined the brains of deceased former football players and found that 110 of 111 brains of those who played in the NFL had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition that can be diagnosed only after death.

On the same day news of the study broke, wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, 31, announced he was retiring from the NFL after six seasons and donating his brain to concussion research. Hawkins said his body wasnt responding during the offseason after he signed with the Patriots in May. Two days after Hawkins exit, Baltimore offensive lineman John Urschel, 26, retired. Urschel is an aspiring chess master who is pursuing his doctorate in math at MIT.

Given the ever-intensifying spotlight on brain trauma and football, several 49ers have been asked during training camp about the potential long-term effects of their job: Do they think about what could await them in retirement?

Yeah, I think about it, tight end Vance McDonald said. And the day I dont think about it, I get reminded from my wife about it. Its really serious. I think honestly that the day that something is released that can connect football to (CTE) its going to change the game dramatically.

Such candor might have been unusual from an NFL player just a few years ago. But the landscape has changed, partly because of the stunning retirement of 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, who cited brain-trauma concerns when he left the NFL in 2015 after a standout rookie season.

More than two years later, its now common for players to at least acknowledge the potential fallout from their playing careers is a concern.

Everybody thinks about it, said center Jeremy Zuttah, 31. Everybody has to make a personal choice.

Said running back Tim Hightower, 31: Youre not oblivious to it.

Left tackle Joe Staley, 32, said: Its definitely on your mind. You see it. Id be lying to you up here if I said I hadnt thought about it. You know the risks playing football The studies are out there. They are what they are. I wouldnt trade my position. Im very happy playing the game of football. Its something I love and will continue to do so.

The majority of players are forging ahead, but some also are making attempts to protect themselves as best as they can.

This season, McDonald is using a helmet with a cushioned outer shell that has been deemed the safest by the teams equipment staff. He says it makes him resemble a bobblehead, but hes not worried about making a fashion statement.

In 2015, after his second concussion of the season, quarterback Brian Hoyer, then with the Texans, visited Dr. Micky Collins, a concussion specialist in Pittsburgh. The meeting inspired him to keep his brain engaged when he was away from football.

The thing that I walked away with is that concussions are treatable, Hoyer said. There are different types of concussions and there are different things you can do. So ever since then, I try to stay on top of things that keep my brain active. I try to read a lot more Theres some brain games you can do. Obviously, we know the risks.

Hoyer used acupuncture to treat both of his concussions in 2015. Hes also used a hyperbaric chamber and an app known as BrainHQ, which has games that are designed to aid concussion recovery.

Still, there is a tacit acknowledgment among players that even as they take steps to protect themselves, they are still taking a leap of faith.

We all understand the risk that weve signed up for, Hightower said. But I cant think about that when Im going into a game. I just have to prepare myself; just trust that Im doing the best that I can and that all will turn out well.

Eric Branch is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @Eric_Branch

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49ers’ love of game versus reality of research – SFGate

40 things you might not know about Tom Brady –

Since his meteoric rise from backup quarterback to Super Bowl champion in the 2001 season, Tom Brady has been the franchise player of the New England Patriots. Hes won five Super Bowls, four Super Bowl MVPs, two NFL MVPs, and made 12 Pro Bowls. But most fans are more than aware of these accolades.

As the Patriots legend turns 40 years old, here are 40 things you might not know about him:

1. He unintentionally dozed off for twenty or thirty minutes before his first Super Bowl.

Prior to the kickoff of Super Bowl XXXVI, Brady navigated the elongated pregame by taking a short nap in the locker room: Twelve minutes later we were running out onto the field.

2. His diet used to be a far cry from the healthy standards he now adheres by.

While Brady is now a strict disciplinarian about what he eats, his rookie year was a little different. He used to eat nachos before games in 2000, when he was a fourth string quarterback. And his go-to lunches were ham-and-cheese subs with onion rings, washed down with orange soda, while his dinners were often pizza.

3. According to Drew Bledsoe, Brady isnt the best skier.

During the offseason, the 40-year-old often frequents the slopes at the Yellowstone Club in Montana. Videos of him skiing sometimes inspire terror in New England fansnot because of his death-defying stunts, but more because of his novice status. As Bledsoe jokingly pointed out when they skied together a few years ago, He was really awful then.

4. Football wasnt the only sport he was drafted to play professionally.

While history will remember him being selected 199th overall by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, Bradys baseball rights were taken by the Montreal Expos in the 18th round of the 1995 MLB Draft. He ultimately chose not to sign.

5. A former Red Sox hero is his brother-in-law.

One of Bradys sisters, Julie, is married to retired Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis.

6. He almost didnt make it to Gillette Stadium in time for the start of his first playoff game.

Due to wintry conditions, Brady was stuck in traffic before the Patriots divisional-round playoff game against the Raiders in January 2002. Only after he got a police escort did the young quarterback reach Foxborough in time.

7. Brady has a Cal Ripken-like streak on the injury report.

With exception of the 2008 seasonwhen he was out for the year with a torn ACL and MCLBrady was listed on every regular-season injury report from 2004-2010because of his right shoulder.

8. All of Bradys siblings earned athletic scholarships.

While Tom attended Michigan on a football scholarship, he was actuallynot the first of his siblings to earn such athletic recognition. Maureen went to Fresno State on a softball scholarship. Julie walked on the St. Marys soccer team before earning a scholarship of her own. And Nancy was recruited to Cal-Berkeley on a scholarship for softball before deciding to pursue another path.

9. He is also not the only of his siblings to be inducted into his home countys Hall of Fame.

Due to her 111-10 career record as a softball pitcher for Hillsdale High Schoolincluding 29 no-hitters and 14 perfect gamesMaureen was inducted into the San Mateo County Hall of Fame in 1999, along with baseball great Moises Alou. Tom was inducted in 2003.

10. Along with his greatest rival, he was once a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the NFL.

During the 2011 NFL lockout, Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and seven other players sued the league on behalf of the players. The suit came to an end when the lockout ended prior to the start of the season.

11. His bedtime is probably earlier than yours.

As part of his strict personal regimen, Brady has adopted specific concessions that he says help him stay at the top of his gameone of them being an early bed time. The five-time Super Bowl winner says he goes to sleep at 8:30 p.m.

12. He was once Patriots fans last choice to be quarterback.

In a team poll conducted in 2000 when Drew Bledsoe was questionable to play, fans slotted Brady dead lastin regards to whom they wanted to start. Michael Bishop (78.5 percent) and John Friesz (12.8 percent) beat out the rookie, who only won over 8.7 percent of vote.

13. Part of his daily routine includes brain games.

In a Sports Illustrated profile from early 2017, Brady showcased how he uses brain games on his laptop or iPad to help stay sharp.

14. Only one team has a winning record against Brady in his career (so far).

Although Brady is a combined 24-0 against the Bears, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Falcons, Jaguars, and Vikings in regular-season games, he actually has a losing record against one team in the league. In both regular-season and postseason games, Brady is 7-9 against the Broncos.

15. Rookies are not his favorite Super targets.

Before Malcolm Mitchells seven-yard reception in the first quarter of Super Bowl LIBradys seventh appearance on footballs biggest stagehe had never completed a Super Bowl pass to a rookie receiver.

16. He bought his first house from former Patriots cornerback Ty Law.

Using part of his $38,500 signing bonus from his rookie contract, Brady bought a house from Law located in Franklin for $265,000. To help pay for it, he initially had two teammates live with him.

17. He says he dominated mini golf in college.

Im the champ right here, Brady once declared in a 1998 Detroit Free Press story, referencing his putt-putt abilities amidst the Michigan football teams collective obsession with miniature golf.

18. Patriots owner Robert Kraft treats Brady like a fifth son.

Kraft still remembers the first time the pair met before Bradys second year in the NFL: He came down in training camp and introduced himself. Here was this skinny beanpole, with this pizza under his arm. He says, Im Tom Brady.

19. Brady says he has never had a sip of coffee.

When Brady arises at 5:30 a.m., coffee isnt a part of his morning routine. Not even Dunkin Donuts. For one reason or another, I never had coffee or anything like that, he said on WEEI. I just never tried it.

20. On the sidelines, Brady drinks a specially prepared concoction instead of Gatorade.

I have this lemon drink with a ton of electrolytes in it, Brady said on WEEI. It doesnt have any sugar. I just load it up on electrolytes and it just keeps me right where I need to be.

21. He once wrote a paper proclaiming that he was going to become a household name.

Throughout his younger years, Brady was largely known by his relation to his three older sisters, but he longed for the day when they would be known as Tom Bradys sisters. He reportedly told his mother, One day, Im going to be a household name.

22. His yearbook quote was one of ambition.

Under his senior photo, Brady wrote: If you want to play with the big boys, youve got to learn to play in the tall grass. He also gave a shoutout to his family.

23. In high school, Brady was the backup to the backup quarterback on a winless freshmen football team.

The young squad went 0-8 and scored only two offensive touchdowns that season. The starting QB, Kevin Krystofiak, ended up quitting football the very next year to pursue basketball.

24. He didnt always play quarterback.

Before he was a legendary quarterbackor even just a high school varsity quarterbackBrady was going through drills as an outside linebacker on his freshman team. That year, he actually got more reps on the line of scrimmage than in the pocket. And according to one of his teammates, he not only wasnt a pushover but also wanted to go up against our big fullback.

25. He led a game-winning drive in his first-ever JV football game.

Were down five with two minutes to go and he led us on a game-winning drive, former teammate John Kirby recalled. It was awesome. Its just like he does all the time now. Whenever he was in the huddle, he always seemed in control. He never panicked. He was always motivational, not negative. If we were way down hed say, Cmon, lets get this going. He never yelled or blamed.

26. During his junior and senior years of high school, Brady had an 11-9 record as a starting quarterback.

Despite being considered one of the Bay Areas hottest young players by a local TV station, Bradys winning percentage as a starter at Junpero Serra High School was just .550.

27. Brady wasnt the happiest camper during the first half of The Catch game.

At four years old, he attended the 1981 NFC Championship at Candlestick Park but cried throughout the beginning of the contestbecause he wanted a foam finger. The crying ceased after his father bought him one for the second half.

28. His car was once pranked by Bledsoe.

In 2000, Bledsoe pranked his then-understudy so that when Brady turned on his car, it unleashed a blizzard of glitter.

29. Kraft once confused him with another Brady.

In one of their first interactions, Kraft erroneously called Brady Kyle,as he likely mistook the quarterback for atight end in the league at the time who shared a surname.

30. In the same conversation, he told Kraft a prophetic message.

Both Kraft and Brady have recalled the eerily predictive assertion a young Brady made in their very first meeting: Im the best decision this organization has ever made.

31. Hes attended the State of the Union address.

In 2004, Brady attended George W. Bushs State of the Union address to Congress. He was personally invited by Laura Bush and was evenbriefly shown on TV.

32. Brady was drafted by the Patriots using a compensatory pick.

Due to the loss of several free agents in 1999, the Patriots were awarded a compensatory pick, the 199th, which they used to select Brady.

33. He reportedly only wanted to live on the 12th floor of his apartment.

Proving his adoration for his jersey number, Brady paid extra so that he could switch from the 11th floor of a New York City apartment to the 12th.

34. Brady has scored more rushing touchdowns than many of the running backs from the 2000 draft.

With 17 career rushing touchdowns, Brady has accrued more TDs than 13 of the 20 running backs taken in his draft class, including first-round pick Trung Candidate.

35. His first NFL pass completion actually didnt count.

Making his debut at the end of a 34-9 loss to the Lions in 2000, Brady completed a pass to running back J.R. Redmond. Yet what should have been a milestone moment was cut short by a Damien Woody penalty.

36. He was once just a Merrill Lynch intern.

In the summers of 1998 and 1999, Brady was an assistant to a senior sales broker at Merrill Lynch, according to a copy of his resume from when he was at Michigan:

37. He had a 103-degree fever 24 hours before the 2004 AFC Championship.

As a Sports Illustrated feature explained in great depth, Brady had an IV in his left arm and desperately tried to recuperate a day before facing the Steelers in the AFC Championship in 2004. He shrugged it off, leading the Patriots to a 41-27 win and another trip to the Super Bowl.

38. Brady has thrown touchdown passes to 65 different players over the course of his 17-year career.

Despite playing for only one team in his NFL career, Brady has thrown touchdown passes to 65 different receivers. Only Vinny Testaverde, who played for eight teams, has morewith 70.

39.He uses babe as a term of endearment for those close to him, regardless of gender.

Dont be surprised if you hear Brady tossing the word, babe, around the locker room. A habit picked up from his father, hes used the nickname on both offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and his teammates. According to an anonymous teammate, Its the California boy in him, I guess.

40. Brady and his wife Gisele Bndchen have three dogs.

The most recent addition was a rescue dog, Fluffy, which they adopted from Wags and Walks in Los Angeles. The other two are another rescue pup, Scooby, and a pit bull mix named Lua, who actually starred in an UGG Australia commercial with Brady.

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40 things you might not know about Tom Brady –

Report challenges claims of cognitive benefits of online brain … – CBS News

NEW YORK — Can you keep your mind sharp — as you age — by playing so-called brain games?

A report Tuesday by AARP focused on what has become a $1.3 billion business.

Ads for online brain-training games tout their cognitive benefits saying they improve memory, brain speed and attention. But the report called the evidence behind these claims of cognitive benefits “weak to nonexistent.”

Sarah Lock, executive director of the AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health, shed light on the report.

Sarah Lock, executive director of the AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health

CBS News

“They might get better at the game but what we don’t know is how that’s going to affect your everyday functioning,” Lock told CBS News. “So you might get better at the game but it’s not going to help you manage your finances any better.”

Training to improve one type of cognitive ability — like memory — doesn’t end up improving other skills such as how fast you process information.

And the report says there’s often exaggerating when these products are marketed.

Last year, the FTC fined the makers of Luminosity $2 million for claiming its games could help users reduce or delay age-related cognitive impairment.

The good news is that cognitively stimulating activities are easy to find, such as learning a new skill. At the Greenwich House Senior Center, Betty Tiago is taking up art.

“I think anything creative helps to stimulate your brain,” Tiago said.

CBS News

Other ideas to help improve cognitive benefits are activities that are novel and require focus and have a level of depth and engagement.

Some recommendations from the AARP include:

Taking on a new skill can help stimulate cognitive growth.

CBS News

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Report challenges claims of cognitive benefits of online brain … – CBS News

49ers’ Joe Staley, Brian Hoyer, Kyle Juszczyk reflect on latest CTE study – ESPN (blog)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Early last week, just a couple of days before the majority of NFL teams opened their training camps, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a new study that found chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease, in 110 out of 111 deceased former NFL players.

The discovery of CTE, which can only be diagnosed after death, in 99 percent of the former NFL players who had agreed to the test was startling for a trio of current San Francisco 49ers players. As one might expect, such a development was enough for active players such as quarterback Brian Hoyer, left tackle Joe Staley and fullback Kyle Juszczyk to step back and take another opportunity to ponder their place in the game.

Although all three noted that the study was centered on players who had suffered from head injuries in their careers, they also acknowledged that the results were eye-opening.

“I think any player who tells you that they havent put some sort of thought into it, they are not being truthful with you,” Juszczyk said. “Its a scary statistic, and I think if you dive into those stats, youll see it wasnt a perfect test. It was guys who have already shown symptoms and have volunteered because they wanted to find out exactly whats going on. I think theres a lot more studies that can go into it, but its still there and its definitely something you have to be concerned of as a player.”

Staley struck a similar tone.

“I mean, its definitely on your brain,” Staley said, pardoning the pun. “Its on your mind. You see it. Id be lying to you up here if I didnt say I dont think about it. You know the risks playing football. I heard Brian [Hoyer] talk about it, and I believe youve got to be proactive in the treatments and what you do for yourself in keeping your brain active and occupied, especially after the game of football is done. Youve got to treat it just like any kind of injury. Youve got to rehab it and do what you can do to try to stay ahead of it.”

For Hoyer, the issue hits a little closer to home, given his history with head injuries. During the 2015 season, Hoyer dealt with a pair of concussions in a month’s span that caused him to miss three games late in the season. In his efforts to heal from those injuries, Hoyer was proactive in trying various recovery methods.

Hoyer went to such lengths as investing in a hyperbaric chamber, going through acupuncture therapy and installing and using an app called Brain Headquarters, which offers mental games intended to help with concussion rehab.

In addition to those treatments, Hoyer also did plenty of research on his own and paid a visit to Dr. Micky Collins, a brain specialist based in Pittsburgh. The 31-year-old signal-caller said his biggest takeaway from those sessions is that the best way to deal with concussions is to treat and rehabilitate from them as one might with other injuries.

“Theres different types of concussions, and theres different things you can do,” Hoyer said. “So, ever since then, I try to stay on top of things that keep my brain active. I try to read a lot more; I wasnt very much of a reader. My high school teachers will probably tell you I didnt do well on my summer reading assignments. You try to read a lot more; theres some brain games you can do.

“Obviously, we know the risks as NFL players. Obviously, theres a lot of studies out there. But Im pretty confident with the changes of technology, equipment getting better, obviously our medical staff being better. You prepare for those situations, and after talking to some specialists, obviously theres some risk involved, but I think theres also a way to make sure you take care of yourself and do the things that are proper. Diet, exercises — you know, you can exercise your brain too — so thats something Ive kind of talked about implementing into your training regimen. Theres things that you can do for that too.

To be sure, concussion research is still in development, and there’s plenty more to learn about the long-term effect of those injuries. For at least three Niners, attention will continue to be paid to what that research reveals, even if it doesn’t change their minds about taking on the risks that come with playing the game.

“Ive put thought into it, but I love this game so much I wouldnt take a snap away from my career to leave early,” the 26-year-old Juszczyk said. “Thats just my feelings on it. This is a game that I love so much that Im willing to put it on the line.”

Staley offered his thoughts on the matter.

“The studies are out there. They are what they are, but I dont think, I mean, I wouldnt trade my position,” Staley, 32, said. “Im very happy playing the game of football. Its something I love and I continue to do so.”

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49ers’ Joe Staley, Brian Hoyer, Kyle Juszczyk reflect on latest CTE study – ESPN (blog)

Brain Trauma Scientists Turn Their Attention to Soccer – WIRED

The mountain of evidence connecting professional football and long-term brain damage grew this week with publication of a new study that examined the brains of former NFL players. Boston University scientists found 110 of the 111 post-mortem brains showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated hits to the head. Linemen had it the worst, while punters seemed to escape relatively unharmed.

This kind of brain damage and the NFLs responseor lack thereofhas dogged the league for the past decade. Football has seen class action lawsuits, congressional hearings, and efforts to make the game safer by banning certain hits and designing new helmets. But neurologists involved in this new study, as well as other experts, say another sport may rival footballs impact on the brain: soccer.

Soccer isnt usually considered a contact sport, although gameplay hits can result in concussions. Soccer has repetitive impacts, from player to player and players heading the ball, says Boston Universitys Ann McKee, an author of this weeks study of NFL players. It doesnt matter how you do it, just that you do it and do it repetitively. And with 265 million players worldwide, soccer represents a potentially huge pool of head injury patients.

One US pro soccer team, DC United, lost six players to retirement over the past decade due to concussions, while another two players missed playing time this season with head injuries. In a recent lawsuit against the team and its coach, former DC United goalkeeper Charlie Horton said one of his teammates elbowed his head on purpose in 2016, giving him a concussion and ending his professional career. And in 2015, the US Soccer Federation, the sports governing body, settled a proposed class action lawsuit by limiting heading by youth soccer players.

Lawsuits arent scientific evidence, but an increase indicates that players are concerned about how their sport responds to concussions and the possible long-term risk of brain disease. Case studies have shown that retired professional English and Brazilian soccer players with a history of concussions can later show signs of dementia; autopsies revealed CTE-riddled brains. In April, BU researchers reported on the case of a former American high school soccer player who had 19 soccer-related concussions, a history of depression and mental health problems who died aged 24 of a drug overdose. An autopsy revealed that he also had CTE, according to a report in the journal Neurology.

Those case studies have limited scientific value, of course; to nail down the connection between soccer and brain damage, the sport will need bigger sample sizes. The big difference between soccer and football is the number of former NFL players and their families who have come forward asking for help from the medical community. McKees group in Boston has set up a brain bank where families of ex-football players (pro and college athletes) who are worried about their mental state can donate their brains for research. So far they have received 425 brains; CTE has been found in 270 of them. That kind of focused research effort hasnt yet been developed for soccer.

Even in the case of football-related brain injuries, theres no absolute proof that concussions cause CTE. In fact, scientists say that it may be the less powerful sub-concussive hits that both football and soccer players receive all the time that could trigger the disease. But at New Yorks Albert Einstein College of Medicine, neuroscientist Michael Lipton has been working to identify the trigger. In soccer, where you have people repeatedly hitting their head over time, says Lipton, the question is how much does it take to lead to a pathology that rises to a level where there are functional effects.

To answer that question, Lipton has been following a group of recreational soccer players in New York City for the past few years. About 400 active players participate in his Einstein Soccer Study: They come in to the lab to get a scan of their brain and some blood work, and then they are asked to perform brain games on a tablet to test their cognitive abilities. Lipton uses diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging, which allows him to map changes in the brains white matter.

In 2013, Lipton reported in the journal Neuroradiology that repeated heading the balleven without getting a concussionis associated with cognitive problems and physical changes to the structure of the brain. Players head the ball, on average, six to 12 times per game, trying to deflect balls that travel up to 50 miles per hour in recreational games. In practice, players head the ball up to 30 or more times in a row during drills. Liptons study suggests that initial problems with memory began at 1,800 headers.

Now, that study only examined 37 playersa small sample that isnt big enough to establish a clear-cut connection. But with a larger sample size of several hundred participants, Lipton is looking to identify some kind of biological change in the brain over time. There is clearly something going on, but what it means for the long term requires more work, he says.

Finding that tipping pointbeyond which a professional or recreational player should probably retire or take a break from heading the ballwould be a huge relief for everyone who loves the game.

McKee notes that the only way to determine CTE is through an autopsy. But she and other medical researchers are hoping to find some kind of biomarker, a protein in blood or urine perhaps, that signals the beginning stages of CTE. That kind of information would give the player a yellow or red warning card that maybe its time to pick up checkers or croquet. Until then, the only thing that can quell the damage is taking a break from repetitive hitswhether theyre from a defensive linebacker or a soccer ball to the head.

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Brain Trauma Scientists Turn Their Attention to Soccer – WIRED

Brain-training games don’t really train brains, a new study suggests – The Sydney Morning Herald

The first large study to rigorously examine brain-training games using cognitive tests and brain imaging adds to evidence that they are not particularly good at training brains and appear to have no more effect on healthy brains than video games. The study is another blow to companies such as Lumosity that have been accused of falsely claiming their programs can improve mental performance.

In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, 128 young adults were tested for mental performance after playing either Lumosity brain-training games or regular video games for 10 weeks. Researchers saw no evidence that commercial brain-training leads to improvements in memory, decision-making, sustained attention or ability to switch between mental tasks.

In early 2016, Lumosity paid a $US2 million fine to settle charges of misleading advertising. While its commercials boasted that Lumosity games are based on the science of neuroplasticity, the US Federal Trade Commission and an open letter from 69 brain scientists insisted the research does not support claims that brain games make people smarter or stave off mental decline. While a study conducted by Lumosity in 2015 suggested that brain-training games improve performance on some mental tasks better than crossword puzzles do, other studies have shown no effect.

Caryn Lerman and Joseph Kable at the University of Pennsylvania were interested in whether brain-training games could help people control risky or impulsive behaviours. “You can predict using brain imaging data who will succeed and who will fail in an attempt to quit smoking,” Lerman explained. The “executive control network,” or ECN, is more active in those who will likely quit. The ECN is important for self-control, planning, and goal-setting. When we’re focused on a task and forming memories, the ECN is activated. When we begin to daydream, our “default mode network” takes over.

Other studies have suggested cognitive exercises such as brain games increase activity in the ECN, but few have shown translation of that increase into everyday activities.

“People who choose immediate rewards over long-term benefits are more likely to engage in risky behaviours,” said Lerman. To measure inclinations toward impulsive decisions in the study, researchers had volunteers rapidly make a series of hypothetical choices. For example, would they prefer to receive $20 now or $40 in a month? The answer seems like a no-brainer, but imagine if the question was instead: Should I eat a piece of cake now, or lose a pound this week? We make these kinds of decisions all the time, and our ECN is involved.

The researchers predicted that playing brain-training games that require memory and focus might activate the ECN of healthy young adults more than regular video games, leading to improved decision-making. Participants in the brain-training group played Lumosity computer games designed to improve mental skills like memory; for example, they would have to click on fish to feed them while making sure not to feed the same fish twice.

Meanwhile, the control group chose from colourful but simpler games: “The toy room has come to life, and these toys are anything but cute and cuddly. Punch your way through demonic dolls and terrifying teddy bears to escape the toy room of horrors.”

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Volunteers played the games five times a week for half an hour. They were tested periodically for performance on a variety of mental tasks. In addition to immediate-reward versus long-term-benefit choices, participants were monitored for risk avoidance, memory, ability to stay focused amid distractions, and cognitive flexibility – for example, in a game of duck, duck goose, how quickly someone responds to “goose” after several declarations of “duck”.

The researchers found that both sets of gamers scored higher on the cognitive tests over time, and their brain activity during testing was similar. To determine whether this was a result of gaming or a simple case of improvement with practice, they also tested a group of young adults who did not play any games. All three groups improved over time at the same rate, suggesting that the volunteers just got better at the cognitive tests by taking them repeatedly. That means neither the brain-training games nor regular video games had any impact on the cognitive abilities tested in these healthy young adults.

The new study does not say these games won’t help aging adults, Lerman was careful to note. Any activity that requires playing close attention flexes our ECN, and it’s possible that older people may benefit from such exercises even though youthful brains don’t.

And it’s possible there are subtle effects that aren’t measurable within 10 weeks, said Mara Mather, professor of gerontology and psychology at the University of Southern California who was not involved with the study. People who have suffered from brain injuries or addiction might also respond differently.

“There’s little reason to think these games are going to make a difference for people who are otherwise healthy,” said Warren Bickel, a psychologist at Virginia Tech who studies addiction and was not involved in the study, but “there could be an effect that shows under more challenging circumstances.” He likened brain-training games to exercise. Someone who can do a lot of push-ups is not going to measurably improve from a very light triceps exercise. Someone who can’t do any push-ups might.

On the other hand, older brains are also less plastic, explained Mather. And there is evidence that literal exercise, hobbies and socialising lessen normal decreases in cognitive decline associated with aging, said Tim Bogg, assistant professor of psychology at Wayne State University who was also not involved in the study.

“What we’re all searching for is a silver bullet to improve our cognitive ability,” said Kable, and while the brain is certainly malleable, playing a game for a few hours a week probably won’t make you any wiser. In contrast, Bogg noted, “being actively engaged in life is much more likely to be associated with healthy cognition than sedentary time devoted to improving one’s performance on a computerised game.”

The Washington Post

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Brain-training games don’t really train brains, a new study suggests – The Sydney Morning Herald

Column: Fitness isn’t all in your head, it just starts there – Stillwater Gazette

Marty Larson

Im at the tail end of the baby boomers and recognize that one of the fears of getting older is developing a neurological disorder (dementia, Parkinsons, etc.). Everyone is seeking to avoid that type of diagnosis.

So why do we, as a culture, focus mainly on strengthening the body while ignoring the nervous system, which is where such things start? Dont get me wrong, Im all about strength and resiliency, but I believe we tend to focus on the things we understand and ignore those we dont.

Research on the brain and neurology has exploded in the last five years. And while weve been hearing about mind/body/spirit for quite some time, the reality is that in our culture, we separate the brain from the body. I believe this will change within the next 10 years. So in the meantime, I work with clients to learn the interconnectedness and the science behind the brains and the bodys systems.

While many of us are familiar with brain games, thanks to Lumosity and Sudoku (activities designed to keep our brains active and agile) there is a disconnect when it comes to engaging both the brain and body together. Without keeping a precise eye on the long-term goal, we could randomly aim at targets we havent quite deciphered.

The loop

There is a continual loop between the brain and the body. Activating the brain with good movement pays huge dividends. And this flows both ways. Good sensory perception pays off with better movement.

Nervous system, brain processes

The brain receives input from the periphery (joints, tissue).

It then evaluates and processes information.

Finally, the brain creates efferent movement (signals go from the brain back to the periphery), thus completing the loop.

There is a danger when we emphasize just one of these three processes. In other words, if we focus just on movement, or just on the input, we miss a piece of the puzzle. The loop and the processes feed on each other and pass information along. In order to increase our adaptive capacity (increasing our resiliency), a truly healthy approach to living, we should be addressing both the brain and the body and the information loop that is ever present .

But wait, theres more

Your neurological system gets information from three different but inter-related systems:

Exteroceptive: Visual, auditory, olfactory, somatic (movement) and taste.

Proprioceptive: Movement, our awareness of movement, strength, heat, cold, pressure, etc.

Interoceptive: Stimuli arising within the body, especially from internal organs heart rate, blood pressure, vestibular/balance, perspiration, etc.

Looking at any one system in isolation doesnt give us a clear picture or road map to good health, but addressing them together will.

All of this can be confusing and complicated. However, oversimplification of such a complex system doesnt serve anyone which is why I have a problem with systems or plans. With that said, if you can wrap your head around the fact that brains and bodies change with a high degree of certainty and accuracy based on input, you are halfway there. Therefore movement shouldnt be separated from brain work and vice versa. It all matters. The brain needs movement to learn and movement impacts our neurology.

Your posture is reflexive

I often talk to clients about how finding our deficits is a win. We all have movement and brain deficiencies. The gold comes in finding what were not so good at so we can work on developing that skill set. For instance, knowing that my posture is reflexive and that training my vision and balance can change my posture and pain faster and more easily than Ive thought has long term positive implications.

Bottom line, find out what you dont know about your neurological system and its effects on your body. When you do, you will be able to up-regulate areas of your brain and body that might not be working well for whatever reason. That way, you wont keep chasing an unattainable fitness goal, youll be creating lasting brain-body connections for the long term.

Marty Larson is the owner and founder of Uncommon Age, a Stillwater fitness and movement studio dedicated to helping people reach their full potential. Learn more at

Excerpt from:
Column: Fitness isn’t all in your head, it just starts there – Stillwater Gazette

New study takes a look at impact of brain games on patients with dementia – WTNH Connecticut News (press release)

Related Coverage

(ABC News/WTNH) The daily crossword in the newspaper, a book full of Sudoku, mental games to stay sharp and hopefully stave off Alzheimers, are all the rage.

One popular website in particular, Lumosity, charges for brain games to help players improve their minds ward off dementia.

But in a new study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, took 128 young people, assigning half of them to complete ten weeks of training on this video game platform.

The other half assigned to play regular video games of their choice.

Related Content:Study says lack of sleep can lead to dementia

When both groups had cognitive testing, they found both posted nearly identical rates of improvement in various measures. Suggesting the specially designed games were no better than video games in general.

Important to note of course, that this test was in young, healthy volunteers not the intended audience for brain training games.

But it goes to show how much more we need to learn before we can find an antidote to dementia.

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New study takes a look at impact of brain games on patients with dementia – WTNH Connecticut News (press release)

Brain Games Don’t Work – Fortune

The goal: Decoding 1 million neurons.Science Photo Library – PASIEKA Getty Images

Last year started on a $2 million sour note for brain-training game company Lumosity. Thats the amount the company, which advertised itself via assertions its products could improve memory, focus, even reverse symptoms of Alzheimers, agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission over charges that these claims were unsubstantiated.

It was a watershed moment, not just for the company but for the entire industry, which sold itself on its ability to sharpen cognitive functioning and stave off mental decline. (Criticism had been brewing for awhile: In 2014, more than 70 scientists penned an open letter stating there was little evidence brain-games could accomplish what they purported to do.)

Since its run-in with the FTC, Lumositys claims have been significantly dialed back. The use to describe its online products as a personal trainer for your brain able to improve performance with the science of neuroplasticity, but in a way that just feels like games. Today, that messaging is gone, replaced by a few caveats: We need to do more research to determine the connection between improved assessment scores and everyday tasks in participants lives, the companys website reads.

Well, more research is in and the results arent good for Lumosity or its competitors. The paper, published in the Journal of Neuroscience on Monday, found no evidence that playing brain games (specifically, Lumosity brain games) translated into improvements in cognitive functioning or decision making.

In the study, 64 participants played Lumosity games for 30 minutes a day for ten weeks. Another 64 played web-based video games, while a third group served as a no contact control. Before and after the ten weeks, all received brain scans and completed a cognitive exam, as well as a test designed to assess decision making and risk tolerance (for example, whether they were more likely to choose a smaller reward now or a larger reward later).

Related: Brain Game-Maker Lumosity Forges Ahead After Reaching a $2 Million Settlement for Deceiving Consumers

All three groups showed some improvement on cognitive measures when assessed after the ten weeks, says Dr. Caryn Lerman, the studys lead author and a psychiatry professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Given that one group received no exposure to any kind of online game, this improvement was likely a “learning effect” (i.e. participants were more familiar with the cognitive assessment the second time around.)

Overall, the study found no evidence that personal brain training benefited the participants in terms of improving cognitive performance, working memory, on attention, cognitive flexibility, or inhibitory control, says Lerman. Nor did it suggest that playing brain games “altered brain activity while completing decision making measures.

(For its part, Lumosity says its a giant leap to suggest this study proves cognitive training is no better than video games at improving brain function…there remain many open questions in the field how, why, and in what circumstances cognitive training is efficacious and so painting in such broad strokes potentially undermines this important, ongoing research area.)

We spoke with Lerman about the study, and whether the results surprised her.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

For the past 16 years, Ive worked in academia at the University of Pennsylvania researching why it is so difficult to change behaviors and habits that are harmful to ones health. I was interested in testing whether cognitive exercises would be effective in improving cognitive functioning — but also whether they could be used to affect decision making processes.

Im also an executive coach. Im very interested in the broader ways that the average person can improve executive brain functioning.

The growing body of research in this space is very mixed, both in terms of the methods and the results.

In terms of the methods, there are a number of smaller scale studies, many of which did not include active control groups. Instead, they just compared cognitive training to no intervention, instead of a program that matched brain games in terms of visual stimulation, engagement, and time spent in front of a computer, all factors which could affect outcomes. And so it’s very hard to tease out whether improvements in some of these studies were due to cognitive training.

I was surprised. Our hypothesis was that playing brain games would have an impact on brain activity. The hope was that we could identify advantageous interventions based on the results — so it was disappointing that they were negative.

I wouldnt discourage people from playing brain games if they find them enjoyable and engaging. Its not harmful. But I would hope this help inform individuals expectations about brain games impact everyday cognitive functions.

Of course, this is one study. But it adds to the skepticism, which was already out there, in terms of the type of claims being made.

The rest is here:
Brain Games Don’t Work – Fortune

Data SheetTuesday, July 11, 2017 – Fortune

Missed it by that much . Darktrace, a hot cybersecurity startup that touts using artificial intelligence, this week almost became the next $1 billion “unicorn” startup, but not quite. The company, which uses machine learning technology and analyzes patterns of network traffic to track threats lurking on corporate networks, was privately valued at $825 million after raising a new round of funding worth $75 million.

Who has your back? The nonprofit digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation released its annual report with that title on Monday, which rates the privacy practices of leading consumer Internet companies. This year, Adobe, Dropbox, and Pinterest were among those getting the top 5-star rating. At the bottom? AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and T-Mobile got just one star.

Did we say buy? An analyst at Morgan Stanley, one of the underwriters of Snap’s initial public offering in back in March, stripped his “buy” rating on the stock and dropped his price target from $28 to $16. That’s 6% below Monday’s closing price of $16.99, not to mention the $17 IPO level that Morgan Stanley helped establish. New products didn’t evolve as quickly as expected and competition from Facebook’s Instagram has come on strong, the analyst Brian Nowaksaid.

Don’t disrupt me . A new line of microprocessor chips coming fromInteltoday is aimed at boosting the performance of corporate servers and the cloud data centers that store all those photos and Snap chats and tweets we’re all creating on our smartphones. Steve Lohr at the New York Times has a nice summary of the challenges facing Intel as it tries to avoid being disrupted by competitors with very different strategies. Meanwhile, Wall Street is getting worried .

Promises, promises . Microsoft is making a much-hyped announcement about bringing high-speed Internet connections to rural America by 2022. But the plan would cost over $10 billion and require changes to some federal airwave rules that the TV industry opposes. Microsoft is contributing at least some of the money and has demonstrated that the technology can work in other parts of the world.

Change at the top . Citrix is getting a new CEOagain. The business software company said Monday that former Microsoft exec Kirill Tatarinov was out by “mutual” decision after just over a year on the job. CFO David Henshall takes over for now, as the company seeks to evolve into more of a cloud services play.

Could something as simple as playing a brain teaser app on your phone stave off declining brain functions as we age? This one goes in the category of “too good to be true,” according to the latest research. A new study in the Journal of Neuroscience on Monday found no evidence that playing brain games (specifically, Lumosity brain games) translated into improvements in cognitive functioning or decision making. Lead author Dr. Caryn Lerman, also a University of Pennsylvania psychiatry professor, explains :

I was surprised. Our hypothesis was that playing brain games would have an impact on brain activity. The hope was that we could identify advantageous interventions based on the results-so it was disappointing that they were negative.

Everyone knows what happens when a Walmart super store opens , with smaller, local retailers driven out of business. But in parts of economically-depressed rural America, the new question is what happens when the superstore is no more. Ed Pilkington of The Guardian investigated the impact of a Walmart closing in McDowell County, West Virginia, eliminating the largest employer and the main source of affordable groceries. As one elderly resident, Henrietta Banks, 60, puts it:

It was a big thing for people round here when Walmart pulled out. People didn’t know what to do. Young people started leaving because there’s nothing for them here. It’s like were existing, but not existing.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman . Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters .

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Data SheetTuesday, July 11, 2017 – Fortune

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